Advances in cataract surgery mean a simple return to better vision
Thanks to advances in cataract surgery, procedures once regarded as complicated and risky are now simple and safe, says Roger H.S. Langston, MD, a cornea specialist at Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute.
A cataract is a cloudiness of the eye’s natural focusing lens – a pea-sized lens behind the iris. “It is perfectly clear in young people,” Dr. Langston explains. “As part of normal aging, or along with disease processes, the lens tends to cloud in all of us.”
Cataracts generally take one of three appearances: a brownish tint with bubbles and imperfections, generally clear with swirls of grey, or like frost on a windowpane. Mild cataracts sometimes can be treated with stronger glasses prescriptions, at least for a while. However, once enough vision is lost to interfere with daily life, cataracts should be removed.
The standard technique for surgery is called phacoemulsification. “We break up the cataract with ultrasound and remove it from the eye,” Dr. Langston says. “The new soft plastic lens can be rolled up and injected into the eye through a one-eighth-inch incision. It doesn’t even require a stitch.”
Cataract surgery is a much simpler procedure today than in decades past. Prior surgeries required a large incision to remove the old lens whole and replace it with a rigid lens. Modern cataract surgery is “remarkably noninvasive,” says Dr. Langston. “The surgery itself takes about 15 minutes. The materials are safe, cause no allergies and are good for a lifetime.” He notes that most replacement lenses now are made of acrylic, similar to the material used in contact lenses.
Leading-edge developments in lens implantation in recent years include accommodative lenses and multifocal lenses. “Multifocal lenses give you two images, near and far,” says Dr. Langston. “The accommodative lens slightly changes the eye’s focus.”
This technology has resulted in dramatic improvements in vision for older patients, given that cataracts develop gradually over the course of a lifetime. “After surgery, patients start seeing like they did when they were little children,” says Dr. Langston. “I have people say, ‘I can’t believe how bright the colors are now!’ Or, ‘Oh my, I’m going to have to redecorate the house!’”
A version of this story appeared in the spring 2010 issue of Be Well magazine.
To make a gift supporting the Cole Eye Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure online giving site, or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.